Genre: Adult Speculative Fiction (Translated)
Year Release: 2012
Source: Unabridged Bookstore
Trigger Warning: gang rape, violence, state-sanctioned terrorism, drug use, a fish swimming up one’s veins into their brain, literal book burning, state censorship, beheaded dogs
Andrei Komiaga, our protagonist, is the fourth-highest ranking member of the oprichnina in a future version of Russia that’s a blend of Ivan the Terrible’s reign with Vladimir Putin’s current policies. We follow a day in Komiaga’s life which involves terrorizing aristocrats, censoring literature, bribery, and not one but two rituals with his fellow officers.
Disturbing, intense, and brilliant, this is one of those books where if the Wikipedia summary is enough to make you not approach this one, I do not blame you.
The perspective is a very close first person of someone whose role is to terrorize anyway deemed undesirable by His Majesty of this future-Russia. It’s very clear on the page how much Sorokin despises Putin, and the state-sanctioned terror currently enacted on the people. Despite the mentions of other countries, namely China, there’s a clear xenophobic disdain for all things non-productively non-Russian that’s unnerving, but unfortunately true to contemporary times.
One of the things that will stick with me that while yes, the sexually-charged moments are overstimulating in the negative affect, they’re not nearly as disturbing as the more polite violence enacted. Reading through Komiaga and his squadron making censorship recommendation and taking names of playwrights and poets is downright chilling. There are people mentioned and, more importantly, people removed from the narrative with obvious outcomes. The literal poems found within are unsettling and mesmerizing. Despite the hold this narrative had on me, I could only read it a few scenes at a time.
This book is absolutely brilliant in its transgression and satire, but extremely hard to get through in one sitting.